The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Cats hoping newcomers can step in


February 19, 2017

Tony Bullocks

Clovis High baseball coach Richard Cruce pitches batting practice during Thursday's practice at Bell Park. Cruce, a 1997 CHS graduate is beginning his third season as the Wildcats' coach.

CLOVIS — With a senior-laden roster, Clovis High's baseball team had hopes of trying to do something at the state level last spring.

That didn't pan out. While they were competitive, outscoring their opponents by 72 runs and losing by as much as four runs just once, the Wildcats fell short of a state berth.

This year's squad will have a lot of new faces under third-year coach and 1997 CHS grad Richard Cruce. In addition, the Cats are now in District 2-6A, with four Albuquerque schools and Santa Fe High.

"It's going to be a tough district," Cruce said as the Cats prepare to begin the season with a 4:30 p.m. doubleheader against longtime former district-rival Hobbs on Thursday at Bell Park. "I think it's one of the top districts in the state."

The only players with any appreciable varsity experience are junior third baseman-pitcher Connor Langrell and junior catcher Jace Piepkorn, who is transitioning from center field. Both were starters a year ago.

Piepkorn, who caught three innings on last year's squad, said that while he knows it's a process, he's looking forward to the challenge.

"I like it because I like being a leader on the field," he said. "I like being involved on every pitch."

Piepkorn said he and Langrell were helped by last year's squad in getting ready to take over.

"Last year as sophomores, we saw how things were supposed to be done," he said. "Me and Connor grew up a little bit last year because of the seniors we had."

Langrell, who saw limited mound duty in 2016, should be one of the Cats' top starters on the mound when he's not playing third. Others include junior left-hander Colson Faircloth, sophomore right-hander Anthony Montoya and junior righties Sebastian Nunez and Kayden Shober.

Senior Chris Encinias and three juniors— Faircloth, Ricky Ulses and E.J. Gonzales— are competing at first base, with Nunez, junior Cam Kuykendall and sophomore Garrett Langrell battling at second base, senior Traejn Reames at shortstop and Connor Langrell at third when he's not pitching.

Top candidates in the outfield are Kuykendall in left and juniors Tomas Gallegos and Joe Gallegos (no relation) in center and right, respectively, with Shober, senior Jared Gomez and Montoya all vying for time.

Cruce said most spots are pretty wide open, including designated hitter. He added that probably 12 of the 16 players on the roster could see mound time at some point.

Tony Bullocks

Clovis High junior Jace Piepkorn is transitioning from center field to catcher this season for the Wildcats. Piepkorn is one of two returning regulars, along with fellow junior Connor Langrell, as the Cats prepare to open the season on Thursday with a 4:30 p.m. doubleheader against former district rival Hobbs at Bell Park.

"Honestly, we're going to be pretty young," he said. "It's a rebuilding year. We have some good athletes, but we're 'young' as far as experience."

The majority of the squad is made up of last year's junior varsity, but Piepkorn said he thinks the Cats will be fine. He knows the competition, though, is formidable.

"I think defensive-wise, we're pretty good," he said. "Hitting is the area we definitely need to work on. Most of the teams in our district have at least one kid who throws 90 or 92 (mph)."

The Cats haven't faced most of the teams in the district before, although they did manage to beat Santa Fe High and La Cueva last year en route to winning the Sal Puentes Invitational in Rio Rancho.

"La Cueva, Eldorado and Sandia are state powers," Cruce said. "All the teams have someone with a big-time arm."

The district schedule is different this year for the Cats. They'll play five doubleheaders— all on consecutive Saturdays in April— with three at home and two on the road.


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